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Monday, April 12, 2021

What impact will the Indo-China border row have on domestic politics?

The brutal standoff between India and China in Ladakh’s Galwan valley seven weeks ago has changed India’s perception of the neighbouring country. The clash and the killing of 20 Indian jawans is likely to stay etched in our hearts and in the collective memory of both the nations for quite a long time now. However, the primary concern coming out of such a crisis is the ruling government’s fallout on domestic politics. What impact will the Indo-China border row have on domestic politics?


What does the domestic fallout look like?

According to numerous experts, the domestic fallout has not followed a single course. The country has witnessed immense outrage following the death of the soldiers who were defending the borders from a pre-planned intrusion. The masses then called for a complete boycott of Chinese goods and products and asked the Narendra Modi government to take immediate and stringent action to make that happen. From the burning of effigies of Chinese President Xi Jinping to vandalising Chinese shops and asking to shut them down, the country saw it all in the past few weeks. Especially products in the electronic sector such as the phones majorly manufactured in China like Vivo, One Plus and more have been asked to be boycotted completely by the Indians. However, on another front, the reactions followed a course of domestic political polarization in the country with the opposition hitting out at the Centre for not being able to protect the Indian territory from its arch enemy. What is quite unlikely is that something positive even came out of this entire episode — an all-party meeting conducted by the Prime Minister took the cake. It only goes to show that amid a crisis democracy doesn’t need to shut down or freeze but gets through it with what democracy actually stands for — a coming together, a healthy discussion even with those who might disagree with the Centre, across political and party lines.

Did the BJP make errors in judgement?

The Bharatiya Janata Party, the ruling party at the centre has forever been on a defensive when it comes questions about their efficacy in guarding our borders. “We are not looking at one error of judgement,” writes Yogendra Yadav, national president of Swaraj India, adding, “the present mess is a result of at least five failures. Lack of long-term foreign policy foresight combined with intelligence failure to anticipate the Chinese incursion, refusal to respond once it was discovered, loss of nerve in backing the ground troops, and finally economy of truth in facing up to and sharing the harsh ground reality with the nation — all this has led us to the embarrassing mess that we find ourselves in.” As he made his point clear, Yadav adds, “this is a moment to take a deep breath, think of the strategic, diplomatic and economic options available to recover what we have lost. The government needs some room to decide its strategy.”

Is India trying to reason with China?

Although China has become a factor in domestic politics, the BJP rather seems to have shown quite a maturity and ramped up diplomatic relations, border talks with the neighbouring nation. Unlike in the case of Pakistan, with over-the-top warmongering, the government has been trying to settle this with peace. There have been and still continuing talks between civilian officials and exchanges between the military to increase cooperation among the two nations. Analyst K P Nayar, writing in The Telegraph says, “by not offering any fodder for warmongers who are aplenty these days among the ill-informed, Prime Minister Modi has considerably helped in calming the atmosphere on the ground. In doing so, he may be signalling a desire to settle with China and resolve the border dispute permanently in his current term in office. A settlement is not possible by beating the war drums or by espousing positions that are not sustainable on the ground. The continuing asymmetry in India’s military strength vis-a-vis China which has existed since the 1950s and the economic imbalance which is a later day reality can only be compensated by being realistic about a border settlement.” We hope that the relations between the two nations are actually going this way and not otherwise.

What impact will the Indo-China border row have on domestic politics?
Indian Army convoy moves along Srinagar-Leh Ladakh national highway in Sonmarg area of Ganderbal District on Tuesday 17, June 2020, following deadly clashes along the disputed border with China (shutterstock.com/Sajadhameed)


Does China want a truce?

In Ladakh, the Chinese and Indian forces clashed along the 2,100-mile-long LAC, a demarcation line that was established after a war between the two nations in the year 1962 which had then resulted in an uneasy truce. Since 1975, no shots have been fired from either side which changed a few weeks ago. However, given certain reports about what the Chinese have to say after the clash, it throws light on a brighter side — even China might be in favour of a settlement. A recent Chinese statement seems to have coincided with what Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: “China hopes that India will work with us, follow faithfully the important consensus reached between the two leaders, abide by the agreements reached between the two governments, and strengthen communication and coordination on properly managing the current situation through diplomatic and military channels, and jointly uphold peace and stability in the border areas.” All of these words definitely do not reek of war, neither do Modi’s statements during his all-party meet. Even for leaders before Modi, the priority has always been the safety of the country’s citizens and to maintain peace in India’s neighbourhood thus safeguarding the economy as well.

Do public care much?

Had it been Pakistan, who is considered to be the historic enemy of the country, the reactions would likely have been more aggressive when it comes to public opinion. But China luckily is still viewed as what is called a remote entity and not a historic enemy. Some experts have even suggested that the sheer remoteness of the LAC often makes it difficult for a significant number of Indians to realise and fathom the reality of the conflict. Of course, then it doesn’t turn into a pressing issue for the public. Also, the already devastating effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on India and the world for that matter has kept an important number of the masses preoccupied. A border dispute amid the already ongoing crisis in an unfamiliar region is not likely to take centre stage for many.

Despite all kinds of assurance, peace talks and what not the stakes remain high. Both countries have increased the number of nuclear warheads they own. Since no clash seems to have taken place since 1975, this can be a new territory to deal with. Modi’s popularity has also been undeterred but history might not be kind to him. So, the Centre needs to buckle up and take things seriously from here on.

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